But is it art???

For decades now, my identity has been deeply wound up in being a writer, which leads me to dismiss other talents and interests that might crop up in the course of living my life. But I’m starting to think that being married to an artist for thirty-odd years (and yes, they have been odd sometimes) is finally rubbing off on me. I feel like I’m much more graphically inclined than I was when I was younger, and find myself looking at actual, concrete things in different ways (ironically, as my eyesight worsens with age).

This past summer, it seems two stray interests of mine caught up with me and converged in what I think is a meaningful way. I’ve always been interested in glass—glass blowing, stained glass, shaped glass. I’m intrigued by the interplay of light with color, and also by the paradox of working with glass, a brittle, even dangerous material, which—like a cat—never really does what you want it to, but somehow can be managed into breathtaking pieces of art. This past summer, when driving home from the Thomas Merton conference in New York State, I stopped in Corning, NY, to see the Tiffany Studios mosaics exhibit at the Corning Glass Museum. And I was simply blown away, at how so many tiny bits of glass could be brought together into  magnificent artwork that literally just glows—it seemed almost alive to me. Not only that, but it all played into my other interests, history and religion, as well. I came home itching to try it myself.

As I type this, my fingers are still sticky with gummy all-purpose glue, after working all morning on a wooden pencil box I covered in a modern, geometric design with scraps of glass. I even pulled out my old glass-cutter and cut a few pieces to size. Yesterday, at a local town-wide yard sale, I picked up a huge box of stained glass (so huge, I couldn’t actually pick it up; my husband muscled it to the car for me), perhaps a hundred dollars’ worth of glass for only $10. Husband seemed faintly baffled by this purchase, and I think he worries this new passion of mine will replace my desire to keep writing. Not to worry. I will always write, and at this moment I’m knee deep into a new novel. But as I was working on my little box this morning, and finding the work so satisfying—if messy—I wondered if I was onto something, possibly a new career to supplement the teaching and the dribbly monthly royalties from Amazon.  We’ll see. I’m pretty fickle when it comes to these kinds of whims—never with men, though, or my writing—and don’t want to assign any status or importance to it just yet. So for now, let’s not call it “art.”  Still  just my “hobby” at this point.

Keeping calm, carrying on

I admit that I gulped a bit when, last week, right after I purchased a set of Oyster Cards to use on the London transit system, a terrorist-inspired bomb went off in one of the city’s train stations. And recent reports of a sharp rise in acid-splashing attacks in the city, sometimes aimed at tourists, gave me pause as well. But only for a few minutes, because, dammit, I’m not cancelling our long-awaited trip to London just because there’s the possibility of being caught up in some sort of mayhem. Chances are, I have a greater chance of  injury or death travelling into nearby New York City, which I do often enough; and I managed to live there, and work there for years without being killed or maimed. I even worked and commuted through the old World Trade Center, but well before 9/11, which must be a case of being in the wrong place at the right time. As the expression goes, we can’t live in fear. Or as good old FDR said, the only thing we need to fear is fear itself.  True enough; pure fear is a pretty awful thing to deal with.

During most of my first year as a New Yorker—first as a Brooklynite and then later an upper-Manhattanite—I was absolutely petrified. I was twenty-two, single, just out of a cozy upstate college, and living alone, working as a low-tier editorial drone at a famous magazine, and just so terrified of everyone and everything I would simply work, go home (white-knuckling it on the subway) to my tiny 4th-floor walkup in Greenpoint, lock the door, drag some furniture in front of it, and go to bed. It was a  miserable existence and I knew it. But that was the apartment that had the fabulous glittery-night view of Manhattan from the back window, and it was that view that eventually roused me, shamed me into overcoming my fear of the city, and finally exploring some of it, gradually making friends and eventually, meeting the man I would marry (who was living on the Upper East Side).  I never completely, absolutely vanquished that fear because just when you did, something bad would happen—your purse would get snatched or your apartment building set on fire—but I did manage to shrink it down to manageable proportions. I learned to be prudent, and not take unnecessary risks and chances–or at least be prepared to accept the consequences if I did.  And most importantly, you eventually learn how to deal with the bad stuff when it does happen: Not to freak out and retract back into one’s shell like a frightened periwinkle,  but to stay calm…and carry on.   It’s become a dopey cliché, printed on any number of T-shirts and coffee mugs against the Union Jack, but it really is good advice for any locality, because anything can happen anywhere.  Keep on keeping on.

And my dear Father Irenaeus, he would say, “Just do your best…let God do the rest.”

It’s what helps me deal with having my (seemingly fearless) only child living twelve hours away in Nashville, and my elderly parents  who seem perpetually in some hurricane’s path these days down on the Florida Gulf coast. And it will help me when I do travel to London next month, with the fellow I met in scary Manhattan so long ago. If nothing else, I’ll be in the company of a people long accustomed to keeping calm and carrying on as usual.

Big Daddy

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know all about my dysfunctional, love-hate relationship with Amazon.  And what follows is not a rant: My bond with, or bondage to, the big A is too complicated for that. But paradoxically, if you choose to be an “independent” writer—i.e., publish your own work—then you must become a serf on Amazon’s vast retail fiefdom. You must obey them to the letter or risk being kicked off into the oblivion; and if you follow their rules faithfully, you might be rewarded with a moment or two of decent sales. The real problem is all those other damned serfs.

But I’ m not complaining, because as the increasingly hackneyed cliché goes, it is what it is. And I get so used to the reality of things not changing, that when they do, it’s a bit of a shock.

It seems that Amazon is, slowly, glacially, beginning to change, and perhaps for the better. Just yesterday I received an unsolicited  email from them, which almost never happens, apologizing for an error I wasn’t even aware of in my book-promotion account. As compensation, I was given a $25 “click-credit” to use for additional advertising. Great, except that the credit had to be used by Sept. 12, and the email arrived Sept. 13th. Thanks anyway, Amazon.

Just a week or so ago, Amazon announced it was going to build a second sort of headquarters somewhere in the US, an adjunct to its offices in Seattle, I imagine. Of course, this announcement was cannily aimed at starting regional tax-break bidding wars across the country. Everyone wants the giant Amazon metropolis (and with over 10,000 employees, it will be an actual city) and my home state of New Jersey is no exception. Minor politicians here are falling all over themselves trying to entice the big A into the heart of Jersey, and seem to think we have an edge. They cite Amazon’s apparent desire for an “educated” workforce.

Now think about that, self-pubbers. You don’t need a special degree to carry boxes of books around a warehouse. So this suggests to me that Amazon is going to boost its editorial staff. Right now anyone can publish just about anything for free on Amazon, and sadly, just about everyone is. But could it be that the ’Zon is about to make that process more…stringent?  Could it be they’ve realized this whole thing has gotten out of hand, and instead reaping big profits, they’re simply stuck with a huge amount of unreadable books?

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict what might just possibly happen. I don’t think they will dispense with the slush-pile form of publishing entirely. I’m thinking, though, they’re going, like the TV-cable companies, to a tiered system of service. (Just a guess—I don’t have any inside information whatsoever) At the top will be their own Amazon and Kindle Publishing houses, of course, which will continue to handpick their authors; in the middle will be those of us deemed worthy enough to publish according to some sort of pre-set standards, perhaps for a modest fee; and the bottom will be a kind of vanity press for everyone else, with a fairly hefty fee attached. And these tiers would be marketed accordingly, the last probably not at all.

In other words, Amazon becomes the Ultimate Gatekeeper. Don’t you think it’s been heading in that direction all along?

Well, that’s what I would do, if I ran Amazon. But I don’t, so I’ll just keep working in the back quarter for a while, and see what happens up front.

Crossing the pond

Both my husband and I celebrate our birthdays this month, and  as a rule, at our age, birthdays are not really something to celebrate, only a grim reminder of the swift passing of time. So time being this season’s theme for us, we decided to give ourselves an outlandish present. Next month, we are going to cross the Pond. The big one, the Atlantic. We are going to live for a whole week and a day in the heart of London, and perhaps watch a little bit of time pass on the face of Big Ben.

I have been wanting to travel to England most of my life, or ever since I learned my grandmother was born there and not in Ireland. But Yorkshire will have to wait for another trip; we’ve decided to simply stay in London, no side trips, because there is far too much there we want to do and see. We’ve never subscribed to the city-a-day-tour thing, because we always want to get to know a place fully before moving on. Frank will be doing some research for his historical project, and I’m not researching anything in particular, I just want to drink it all in. I will probably just move right  into the Victorian & Albert Museum for a while, since many of the things I love and am interested in are there. But I’ll also go to the British Museum and all the others. I want to go to Greenwich and see where time starts. I want to attend Evensong in one of the big, big cathedrals, and just walk alongside the Thames. Since we’re going the end of October, I’m preparing for wet days and fog and early nights. But fortunately, London will be mostly an ‘indoor’ kind of place for us, a treasure box full of lots of little drawers and nooks and crannies to explore.

We are staying in a very tony neighborhood, Earls Court/South Kensington, where I was lucky enough to snag a little studio apartment with a kitchen, so we can make some concession to budget by way of food. It’s just down the road from Princess Di’s digs at Kensington Palace, and also, Hyde Park. So many  people have told me that I “must” go to Harrods, that I feel like being contrary and not going; but we do intend to hit Portobello Road on Saturday morning.

So even though most of our eight days are already spoken for, (Frank jokes that he’s already planning for the return trip); I invite my readers to share their experiences with me, and maybe suggest some ‘must-do’ experiences. What would you do if you had a week in London? Leave a comment and let me know!